Pope Francesco’s planned visit to Iraq last year, which was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, received wide coverage in global press. As this is the first of the visits abroad that were postponed due to the pandemic period, and the fact that this first visit is to a Muslim country further increases its importance as well as draw attention to what transpires in the meetings to be held.
What is the meaning behind this visit to Iraq now, a country never before visited by any pope? What might the Pope be seeking in Iraq within such a short time?
The Pope, who met with President Berham Saleh on the Baghdad stop of the three-day visit, and with Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani on the Najaf leg, also met with Nechirvan Barzani in Erbil, completing his tour.
While efforts to increase interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims is also mentioned in the official evaluations of the visit, one other aim is to provide moral support to the Christians in the Middle East, specifically to the Christians in Iraq, whose numbers have been dwindling since 2003.
This actually provides an ideal occasion to compare Christians in Muslim communities to their Muslim counterparts in Christian ones. This is also a good opportunity to reveal what happened to the Muslim and Christian population as a result of the attacks launched against the Muslim Middle East since 1991, and openly declared by Bush junior as “the Crusades.” There is no doubt that this comparison contains deep lessons for all to see.
Thus, the reason behind the diminishing Christian population since 2003 is not Muslims, but rather the Crusader mentality that sees this region directly as a target to be attacked.
While the Christian population in Iraq was at 1.5 million until the first attack in 1991, it is thought that this figure is currently down to about 400,000. Considering the Pope’s visit, he must also be thinking that Muslims are the reason underlying this decrease. This must be the case, since he is coming to provide a morale boost to the Christians who feel they are under threat from a Muslim majority. Though, nobody has any doubt that this morale will turn into a new form of aggression against the majority. But the question that needs to be begged before is how so many Christians were able to live among a Muslim community for such a long time, right?
The reason why this question is even given the time of day is the deep ignorance demonstrated by the first question. This is due to the fact that the Muslim community has always stood for total cultural-religious plurality throughout history. We had mentioned before that such a mosaic is surprising for Europeans, and in fact, Muslim culture was perceived as a weakness when it comes the establishment of dominance and the formation of a cultural homegeniety. Even the fact that this perception becoming the subject of a sense of orientalist superiority is like giving away one’s crime while boasting about their heroism. The alternative to this mosaic community is nothing other than cultural genocide, intolerance and bigotry. Thus, this orientalist theory is like boasting about one’s bigotry while shamelessly laying bare their crime.
Hence, the fact that Christians have thrived for centuries in Iraq, in Syria, in Egypt, in the Balkans and in Anatolia, has nothing to do with Christians being very loyal to their religion, but with the legal guarantees provided to them and the tolerance towards them in the Muslim community. It is thanks to this that the Pope is able to find Christians to visit in a Muslim community in Iraq today.
But we cannot even imagine what would be the case if the tables were turned. For example, a Muslim leader today cannot visit and boost the morale of the tiny Muslim group that survived in Andulusia, where they reigned for seven centuries. This is because the only things left behind from those Muslims are a few memories or books that were written there and smuggled out during that time.
It is not only the Christian population in Iraq that has dwindled or changed today following the consecutive crusades in the last three decades. The Muslim population and all its elements has also been deeply affected by this process. Particularly the Sunni population faced a grave slaughter and exile, as well as undergoing a demographic alteration. Despite this, Iraq continues to reflect all traces of an extremely rich cultural variety of ethnicities and creeds such as Arab, Kurdish, Turkish, Shiite, Sunni, Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Yezidi, Shabak, Jew, Sabian, etc. Of course, this diversity presented an extremely harmonious composition with its cultural coexistence, promising greater stability until the Crusader-Western intervention in 1990. Despite the bloodshed and instability today, it is still possible to continue this cultural plurality - as long as others do not intervene and ruin it.
It is for this reason that there really is not much the Pope has to give to Iraq. However, if he opens his heart a little, there is a lot he can take and learn.
It would be a lot more beneficial if he imparted the message of peace and brotherhood he came to preach to the people here to those who are close to him instead. Because the root of the problem is nothing other than the never-ending colonial ambitions of those on his side.